One of the fundamental technologies of modern gadgets is the Global Positioning System (GPS). Using signals from satellites orbiting the earth, a GPS receiver can pin down its location with remarkable accuracy: the latest generation of Civilian Navigation Signals (CNAV) sent by the US GPS system has an accuracy of less than half a meter (about 3 feet). These signals also contain the time, accurate to within milliseconds, which makes it perfect for off-line dataloggers and systems that require very accurate timing. That’s a powerful combination that has made GPS one of the main technologies behind the mobile revolution, because it lets gadgets know where (and when) they are.
Deep in the hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo, you’ll find men and women hard at work providing a living for their family. You might find some working in one of the nation’s mines which are rich in natural resources. Others will be working the farms or participating in one of many diverse cultural customs. If you head two hours via dirt road from the capital city of Kinshasa, however, you’ll find something a bit out of place for the area – an active space program.
On a vast yam farm, [Jean-Patrice Keka] has single-handedly developed several rockets that have flirted with the elusive zero gravity environment. [Mr. Keka’s] ‘Mission Control’ is a corrugated metal shed lined with CRT monitors and dated computers, but don’t let this fool you. His vision and drive are just as great as any space faring nation.
His intellect has made him a small fortune in commodities trading, and allows him the luxury to finance his operation without the need of government help. From time to time, he employs the help of local engineering students to get his rockets off the ground. Their payload has included rats and insects, with one launch reaching 10 miles of altitude and the current project aiming for 120 miles. [Mr. Keka] has become a national hero via the televised broadcasts of the launches, and has gotten the attention of national government officials. They even flew him to the US once to petition funding for his work.
[Mr. Keka] and his story should serve as an inspiration to all inspiring hackers and makers to pursue their dreams.
Thanks to [Cmh62] for the tip.
Thanks to the seminal work of Howard and Hanks et al, the world is intimately familiar with the story behind perhaps the most epic hack of all time, the saving of the crippled Apollo 13 mission. But Apollo 13 is far from the only story of heroic space hacks. From the repairs to fix the blinded Hubble Space Telescope to the dodgy cooling system and other fixes on the International Space Station, both manned and unmanned spaceflight can be looked at as a series of hacks and repairs.
Long before the ISS, though, America’s first manned space station, Skylab, very nearly never came to fruition. Damaged during launch and crippled both electrically and thermally, the entire program was almost scrapped before the first crew ever arrived. This is the story of how Skylab came to be, how a team came together to fix a series of problems, and how Skylab went on to success despite having the deck stacked against her from the start.
We wrote about the Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering (DARE) project recently: a group of students at Delft Technical University who are trying to launch a rocket to 50kM, breaking the European amateur rocketry record. Now, the group is close to their latest launch attempt, which is scheduled to take place from their launch base in Spain between the 14th and the 20th of October.
Launch preparations are underway, with the team working through a 10,000 point pre-launch checklist. Last year, their launch failed because of a leaking valve, but the amateur engineers have just successfully completed a pressure test using inert gas, so they are confident that this problem won’t happen again. They are offering a live video feed of the launch (embedded below), and will be regularly updating their twitter feed as they prepare. We wish them the best of luck.
Testing rocket motors is a dangerous business, as they have an annoying habit of releasing all of that energy a little quicker than you might like. [Jeff Hopkins] knows this, so he made his own wireless rocket motor analyzer that allows him to trigger, test and monitor rocket motors from a safe distance. This involves more than just pushing a button and watching them go whoosh: his platform measures the thrust of the prototype over 90 times a second and transmits this data to him remotely for logging and later analysis. His current prototype can measure engines with up to 400 lbs of thrust. That is a lot, so it is a good thing that his rig can also remotely arm, fire or safe the motors, all over a 70cm wireless radio link that keeps him safely out of the way. It is also built of cheap parts, so if a RUD (Rapid Unplanned Disassembly) does occur, it won’t cost him much to rebuild and start again.
This project is part of a bigger plan: [Jeff] is looking to build a high-power launch platform that can launch an electronics platform high above the earth. Could this be the beginning of the race to be the first hacker in space? We shall see…
You’ve probably seen the ads and heard the buzz about the movie “The Martian”, where a Mars astronaut, Mark Watney, is left on the planet and presumed dead. You may have read our previous article about the eponymous book by Andy Weir. That article wondered if the movie would do justice to the book.
In summary, Watney survives by creating one glorious, but realistic, hack after another. NASA and the other astronauts support him by coming up with some marvelous hacks along the way. One, encompassing the entire spaceship containing the surviving astronauts, is developed by the ship’s Captain, Melissa Lewis. Okay, that one may not be totally realistic but it’s mind blowing.
Reading about the hacks is one thing. Seeing them on the screen adds another dimension. Matt Damon, as Watney, mixing his own waste with water to fertilize potatoes is an image you cannot create in your mind’s eye.
One usual trick Hollywood plays is to switch the actions of minor characters to the major characters. That leaves out the ‘little guy’ in the backroom who frequently has the great idea. Often that’s us. Here they kept the woman who first saw Watney moving equipment on Mars and the astrophysicist who, well, I won’t spoil it, saved the day.
For hackers, this movie should be paired with “Interstellar”, because of their fidelity to science. “The Martian” contains actual NASA technology and plans for Mars missions. “Interstellar”, well, what can you say bad about a movie that originated in the mind of Caltech Theoretical Physicist, Kip Thorne. The science in this movie is so real Thorne wrote an entire book describing it, and managed a few scientific papers based on the research required to accurately present the black hole.
It’s a wondrous trend to see science fiction movies based on real science and not being dumbed down to the point of insult. You know it has to be good if XKCD did a comic. Surprisingly, Hollywood didn’t do a ‘hack’ job on either of these movies.
Movie trailer after the break.
Ham radio put another satellite in orbit, the FOX-1A. Not many groups have the long-term hacking credentials of hams. Their tradition extends back to the first days of radio communications, which puts the group well over a century old. This newest satellite launched in the early hours of October 8th and, after deployment, was heard later the same day. Anyone with the ability to listen on the 2m band can hear FOX-1A. Those licensed as hams will be able to communicate using a 70cm transmitter while listening on 2m.
This satellite is using the cube-sat format and ‘ride sharing’ through a program offered by NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Twelve other nano-satellites rode along with the FOX-1A. These 10 cm cubes are used for commercial, educational, and non-profit projects. The purpose of today’s satellites covered not only ham radio but educating students in satellite construction, land management by American Indian tribes, and space to ground laser communication. Yeah, what’s cooler than space lasers? Video about the FOX-1A after the break.